Registered first level mental health nurses discourse analytic construction of their professional identity

  • June Leishman

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Mental Health Nursing exists as a discipline within the contemporary health care establishment. Throughout its history it has attempted to define itself in ways that differentiate mental health nursing practice from other health care professions and fields of nursing. It is not surprising in the climate of contemporary healthcare delivery for individual professional identities to become lost in the melange of interdisciplinary education and practice. This study is concerned with researching mental health nurses’ identities. In so doing, it adopts a social constructionist, discourse analytic approach to explore individual mental health nurses’ ‘identity constructions’ as they emerge in their talk with each other in focus group discussions. The aim of the research is to illustrate how identities are rhetorically constructed in the justifications, accounts and explanations of what mental health nurses do every day. Thus the stance is taken that identity constructions are not things that are hidden inside the individual, which can then be ‘discovered’. Rather they are the accomplishment of action created in the language used to describe them. The research begins from a commonly understood contextual premise. It then moves to explore the application of a social constructionist, discourse analytic approach in researching mental health nurse identities. In this way the ‘functionality’ of language is emphasised. Thus, this research proposes that there is a natural synergy between the social constructionist, discourse analytic approach and the ways in which mental health nursing is practised. It is further proposed that mental health nurse identity is socially constructed and negotiated through talk. Extracts from the corpus of transcribed data generated from focus group discussions with registered first level mental health nurses were subject to in depth discourse analysis. The rhetorical ‘identity constructions’ yielded under analysis in this research are wide ranging, complex and dynamic. Insights generated from this research have implications for mental health nursing practice, education and in the strategic implementation of policy. Finally, this research serves as a ‘voice’ that assists in articulating mental health nursing as the bedrock of experience by the participants in this study. In so doing it is both emancipatory and empowering, placing mental health nursing within a particular position within the complex world of health care practice.
Date of AwardMar 2003
Original languageEnglish

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